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Tim McGraw: On With the Show

Back on tour, Tim McGraw is happy . . . but far from content.

“The people who get to have the long careers are the people that pay attention to what they are doing, take care of themselves, take care of their music, support the art they do and support other artists that they respect.”

Originally published in the June 17, 2013 issue of Country Weekly magazine.

It was gonna be one of those nights that Tim McGraw treasures.

Because on this particular Tuesday evening, far away from the stage and the spotlight, Tim found himself at home, coaching third base for his daughter’s softball team and eating pizza for dinner before coming home to his wife, Faith Hill, and helping their two older daughters cram for final exams. After a kiss goodnight to the four women who make his world go ’round, Tim McGraw went to bed . . . content.

“Aahhh . . . ‘content’ is a scary word for me,” says Tim, thinking intently of the next words that will come out of his mouth. “I don’t know if I can ever be content. I’m a competitor. I always want to be better and better and better and better. I feel like I’m not even close to being as good as I want to be, so I’m hesitant to use the word ‘content.’”

So if Tim McGraw is not content, what is he?

“I would say I’m happy,” he says, chuckling. “I’m happy with my family and the direction my music is headed and definitely happy with being over at [record label] Big Machine working with [label president] Scott Borchetta. We’ve got a great partnership going on over there.”

He pauses.

“So yeah, I would say I’m happy . . . and still shifting gears.”

Indeed, his Two Lanes of Freedom 2013 Tour, presented by Pennzoil, has the renewed country music artist shifting gears all across the United States. His first Big Machine Records album, Two Lanes of Freedom, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, marking his 14th career No. 1. His latest single, “Highway Don’t Care,” is heading up the charts, and the video just might be headed into the national psyche as one of the most powerful to be made in a long time.

“It’s definitely liberating for me,” he says of the events of the past year. “I certainly feel like I am on the verge of making the best music I have ever made in my career. This album is just a taste of where I am headed musically. I would say I have 70 percent more left in me than what I have done so far.”

The chance to get back out on the road has been welcomed by the self-proclaimed road warrior, who recently wrapped up a limited engagement of shows at The Venetian in Las Vegas alongside wife Faith. “[The Vegas show] was definitely everything that we had hoped for and more,” says Tim. “For years, Faith and I had tried to figure it out. Everyone wanted us to do another Soul2Soul tour, and we got really close to putting it out on the road again. It just never felt like the right time to pack everyone up and go out for the summer touring together. With three kids at the age that they are, they are just so busy in school and with cheerleading and basketball and softball, we just couldn’t make it work.”

That was until The Venetian came calling, offering the couple the perfect option. “We knew the fans wanted to see us together and we wanted the chance to perform together, so we just couldn’t pass the opportunity up,” explains Tim of the 10-weekend run. “Once we saw where we would play and the intimacy of it, we knew we could make this show quite a special event. The time went by so fast, though. The best part was that I got to be onstage with Faith again, who I consider one of the best singers in the world.”

Indeed, the shows gave Tim and Faith time to be together within the framework of their hectic schedules. “It will be something we will look back on as being a really cool opportunity for us,” he says. “It turned out to be such a beautiful show and we were able to perform some great songs together. For a husband and wife to do something like that is pretty rare and very special.”

And while the transition from the somewhat intimate venue at The Venetian to the sold-out arenas of his current tour doesn’t seem to faze him much after two decades out on the road, Tim’s command of and interaction with his audience have never been more on display as of late. From breaking up fights in the crowd to placing a gentle kiss upon the head of a cancer patient while singing his hit song “Live Like You Were Dying,” Tim is dialed up and tuned in to his fans. “I have always enjoyed the interaction with the crowd,” he says. “I enjoy making eye contact with people. I also love seeing people that look like they would rather be somewhere else and play specifically to them to win them over.”

He also seems to love having thousands of phones staring back at him. Or not. “That whole iPhone thing brings with it a whole different scenario for playing live,” says Tim, who will release live tracks for the first time ever this summer exclusively on his website. “I mean, it’s incredible to see a majority of the crowd watching the show through their iPhones. I mean, seriously, I really wonder how they are enjoying the show that way. Why the heck did they buy a ticket?”

And at the age of 46, it can be said that Tim is in the best shape of his life. Especially out on the road, Tim has alleviated other vices (he recently celebrated five years of sobriety) in favor of a now-famous exercise regimen. “There is a group of guys out on the road that I go to the gym with in the morning, and then we do some cross-fit training like playing some basketball,” he says. “When we play the amphitheaters, we run the lawn with weights on us. It’s a lot of fun.” He pauses. “I say it’s a lot of fun with a grimace on my face,” he continues, laughing. “It’s actually not that much fun, but it gets the job done.” 

With this whole new, obviously effective health regimen comes a new lease on life for Tim. “I feel like I am in the prime of my life and the prime of my career,” he says. “It’s the old adage that you control what you can control. There were a lot of things professionally in my life that were out of my control for a while that I couldn’t do anything about, so making the decision to put my arms around the things I could control and do the best job that I could do with those things . . . well, that’s just what I did. I can’t control what a record label is going to do and I can’t control what anyone else is going to do, but I can control what I am going to do. What I’m going to do is build myself the best foundation for success, both personally and professionally, that I can build. That’s my goal.”

Make no doubt about it. Tim McGraw has come far and admits to having so much left to learn. Yet perhaps it’s what he can now teach others that serves as one of his greatest gifts, especially for those who now stand where he once did. 

“I don’t know if I can teach them anything,” he says of conversations he has had with tour openers Brantley Gilbert and Love and Theft. “But yes, we have had plenty of discussion about the importance of paying attention to what you are doing. There has always been this preconceived notion, and I certainly had it when I started out in this business, about what you are supposed to do to be a rock star. You are supposed to go out and be crazy and wild and party and do all this stuff. But you learn, if you stick around long enough, that the people who get to have the long careers are the people that pay attention to what they are doing, take care of themselves, take care of their music, support the art they do and support other artists that they respect. If I have anything to pass down to anyone, it’s about being a professional. Those are the guys who stick around.”  

Drivin’ ’N’ Cryin’

An emotional Tim reveals the family inspiration for his latest video.

During a first-ever music-video premiere event with Google+ Hangout to unveil his latest clip, “Highway Don’t Care,” Tim McGraw shed a few tears. 

“I don’t know if I am more emotional these days or what, but I am definitely less guarded in a lot of ways than I used to be for a lot of reasons,” says Tim, whose oldest daughter, Gracie, recently earned her driver’s license. “I guess a lot of it has to do with watching my daughters grow up and turn into strong and confident and lovely young ladies. I think about it a lot that I only have a few more years left with them being home. It’s just something that always crosses my mind, no matter what subject I am talking about. Everything I say and do is skewed, just knowing that my life is going to be changing here in a few years.”

And as his children continue to grow up, Tim says they serve as a stronger-than-ever inspiration for not only his music but, in this case, his videos. “I was in the car with Gracie and I was trying to come up with the genesis of the video for ‘Highway Don’t Care,’ trying to think of some ideas,” he recalls. “All of a sudden, she says, ‘Why don’t you make it about a girl who is texting and gets herself into a car wreck?’ I knew that was it.”

With the help of video director Shane Drake, vocals by Taylor Swift and the guitar talents of Keith Urban, Tim looks like he has another hit on his hands. “It’s such a great song, and Taylor and Keith took it to another level,” he says. “I am a fan of both of them as artists and as people. Keith’s guitar part is probably one of the most awesome guitar parts that I have heard in a long time. There was so much character and purpose and intent in his playing. It was just amazing how it all turned out.”

House Hunter: Tim Sets Up Soldiers With a Place To Live

Supporting the efforts of our country’s military has been in the blood of Tim McGraw from the moment he arrived on this earth. “My little sister Tracey is a veteran of the first Gulf War, my grandfather was a veteran of the Navy and my uncle is a Vietnam veteran,” he says. “I grew up knowing all about the importance of service.”

This commitment has grown into Tim’s current work with his HomeFront program, which will award mortgage-free homes to wounded military veterans at each and every stop on his 2013 tour. With the help of Chase and Operation Homefront, McGraw says this is a program that, if he has his way, will never stop.

“It’s all about thanking these veterans for providing safety and security for us,” he says. “I tell them all the time that they do the hard work. I have the easy job. I get to be the guy that everyone gets to look at and think I’m cool because I’m onstage under the lights and with a guitar in my hand. The true beauty of these men and women is in their commitment to serving this country.”

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